New Jersey to count its homeless this week
There were 13,900 homeless men, women and children counted in New Jersey in 2014. This week, NJ Counts will take to the streets again for its statewide point-in-time count of the homeless. Organizations, agencies and others are working together to conduct the counts, which are being coordinated by Monarch Housing Associates.
"The point is to gather as much information as we can to get a comprehensive view of how many people are really homeless in New Jersey," said Taiisa Kelly, senior associate at Monarch Housing Associates. "Although it is a one-day count, it does give us an in-depth view of the homeless population, some information about the causes of homelessness and some of their service needs so that we can better plan for addressing homeless issues in the community and better use state and federal resources that we have to address the needs of the people who are experiencing homelessness."
According to Monarch Housing Associates, several factors will contribute to the results of this year's count:
- A shortage of rental housing driving up demand and costs.
- A pullback in federal investment resulting in the failure to create more affordable housing, supportive housing, and necessary support services.
- Foreclosures causing many owners and renters to lose their homes.
- A shortage of jobs that pay a living wage.
- Families and individuals still living without homes even two years after Superstorm Sandy.
There is a steady population of homeless people in New Jersey, according to Kelly. Last year, the unsheltered population was much lower than in previous years because of the extreme cold.
"We are expecting that number to increase this year as more people are able to sustain the outdoor conditions," she said. "I think the numbers are just indicative of the ongoing needs in the state in terms of the lack of affordable housing in New Jersey and the lack of jobs that pay a living wage."
The recession had a big impact on New Jersey and it was devastating for those who were already struggling. Most people in the state who are homeless have jobs, but the cost of living makes it difficult to make ends meet.
"If you live in New Jersey and are making the minimum wage, you need to have three full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom unit in this state on average which is virtually impossible for most people especially if you have children and a family," Kelly said. "For those who have jobs that are at minimum wage or just above, it's hard to afford a house and food and clothing and all of the other expenses they have in their daily lives."
There is a small number of people who were impacted by Sandy and remain in the system. There are those who have mental health or substance abuse issues or have been impacted by a trauma and they need help getting back on their feet. There is also a large number of people who remain at-risk for homelessness and that group is much harder to quantify, but Kelly estimates that number may be three times greater than the 13,000 who have been counted.
"They are the ones who are living with friends and family, sleeping on a couch or taking a spot on the floor," she said. "They are living in a hotel or motel because it's more affordable for them than a house or apartment."